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Friday, February 22, 2013

Pastoral Theology: Stewardship

Despite the freezing rain, spring is approaching. This great beast of a grizzly bear has emerged from hibernation with a craving for blueberries and blogging.

During my devotional readings this past winter a word and related charge kept jumping out of the pages at me and this word was stewardship. Now pastors like to talk about stewardship. Or rather, it is expected they talk about stewardship.  Once a year at least, perhaps more, it is expected the minister talk about stewardship of our resources. Usually this ends with an appeal to not forget the church when you plan your yearly budget.

Stewardship is a much more important concept than that, however. Stewardship is about responsibility. Being a proper manager or administrator of what God has given to an individual in the form of their time, talent and treasures.  Christians ought to be a people who do not waste time, who do not squander their talents and who do not spend money that doesn’t exist as though it did. We are to be responsible with the gift that God has given to each one of us.

With this responsibility comes a necessary giving away.  It is clear that we are not to horde, say our money.  But even in our dispensing of our gifts, we are to be responsible and make sure what we share is not foolishly wasted by the very act of sharing.

But it never occurred to me, or rather it was something I felt but I had never truly encountered in Scripture, that this is true also of Ministers and the administration of God’s grace.  The word translated as stewardship is οἰκονομία and it refers to the “responsibility of management.” It appears 9 times in the New Testament; 3 times in the Parable of the Dishonest Manager and twice in reference to God’s plan of salvation (Eph 1.10, 3.9). The other four occurrences are all related to proclamation of the gospel and the grace of God that accompanies the Good News. 

1 Corinthians 9.17: For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.

Ephesians 3.2:  Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

Colossians 1.25:  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

1 Timothy 1.4:  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.

Individuals who have been called into positions of leadership within the church have a responsibility. We are to be good stewards of God’s grace. That is, we are to share it but share it wisely. There is nothing that bothers me more than when I hear of the passing of an individual and promises about everlasting life are made when we simply do not know.  One can still share the gospel and the glorious promise of forgiveness of sins found in Christ without therefore concluding that such and such individual—without any knowledge of them—is thus in heaven. That is poor stewardship.

Stewardship of God’s grace of course extends beyond the setting of a funeral. In an age when the world is clamoring for the road to be made wider and the gate to be enlarged, we are reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 3.2: “…assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…” We have been given stewardship of God’s grace. Make no mistake: this is a burden. It has been given to us to be shared (“given to me for you” as Paul put it) but shared wisely (Mark 6.7-13). It has been given to us to be proclaimed, but proclaimed wisely which means not in the way the world would expect (1st Corinthians 1.17-25). Just because the world expects everyone to be saved does not mean we should therefore say, “everyone will be saved.” Just because the world expects good deeds, or the attempt at good behavior (however confusingly “good” is defined in a world of relativism) to merit eternal life that does not mean we should agree (Matthew 7.21-23). 

Rather, we are to be honest. When the New Heavens and New Earth arrive there are those who will be left out (Rev 21.8). When the joyful wedding feast of the Lamb and his Bride takes place there will be those who are not admitted (Matthew 22.11-14).  To make promises to the contrary would be a misuse and abuse of the great resource that has been entrusted to us.